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Tens of thousands of Colombians have joined protest marches in major cities across the country against a tax reform bill.
Protesters took to the streets in defiance of a court ruling that the marches should be postponed due to a current spike in Covid-19 cases.
Protesters clashed with riot police in several towns and one person is believed to have died in Cali in “an incident related to the protest.”
The government says reform is essential to alleviate the economic crisis.
Colombia’s gross domestic product (GDP) fell 6.8% last year, its worst crash in half a century, and the coronavirus pandemic has pushed its unemployment rate up further.
Colombia currently has one of the lowest tax revenues compared to other countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In 2019, it collected 20% of GDP in taxes; only Mexico received a lower percentage among OECD countries.
President Iván Duque’s government maintains that the time has come to increase the taxes it collects if it is to cover its expenses.
The proposed reform would lower the payroll tax threshold, affecting anyone with a monthly income of $ 656 or more.
It would also eliminate many of the exemptions currently enjoyed by individuals and increase taxes imposed on businesses. The number of items on which value added tax (VAT) is charged would also increase.
The proposal has sparked outrage from many Colombians who say they are already struggling to feed their families during the pandemic.
The protest was organized by the largest unions in the country, but was also joined by many middle-class Colombians and members of indigenous groups.
And while many protesters said they opposed tax reform, indigenous protesters in the city of Cali toppled a statue of Sebastián de Belalcázar, one of the conquistadors of Colombia in the 16th century.
Indigenous leaders say the statue of the Spaniard represented five centuries of genocide and slavery.